Get the best out of your apricots

From tagines to ice creams, apricots can add fragrance and colour to all sorts of dishes. Skye Gyngell shows how to get the best out of this gorgeous fruit.
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Indy Lifestyle Online

Pale, creamy, orange in colour with pink blushing cheeks - apricots are a beautiful early summer fruit. Thought to have been first cultivated in China thousands of years ago, they are grown widely today in the Middle East, Spain, US and Europe where they are used in both savoury and sweet dishes. Apricots pair well with lamb and are often found in Moroccan tagines, but there's so much more you can do with them.

Whether they are to be eaten fresh, dried, cooked or preserved, to have any chance of tasting delicious - by that I mean sweet and juicy - they need to ripen on the tree. Here in England, the variety known as Blenheim have a sweet, dense taste that works really well poached, preserved or eaten as they are. s

Skye Gyngell is head chef at Petersham Nurseries, Church Lane, off Petersham Road, Richmond, Surrey TW10, tel: 020 8605 3627

Strawberry and apricot jam

I love making jam. I find it comforting and immensely satisfying. The idea that you can lay down certain fruits to enjoy later in the year is lovely to me. I think sourdough bread makes the best toast of all and, of course, sweet unsalted butter is the perfect accompaniment. Makes approximately 1kg (2lb)

500g/1lb English apricots
500g/1lb English strawberries
1 lemon, roughly chopped
1kg/2lb caster sugar

I have to admit that, the last time l made my strawberry and apricot jam, I slightly burnt it because I didn't stir it often enough. But as it happens it just gave the jam a delicious caramel flavour. So if you burn it slightly, don't worry.

Start by hulling the strawberries and cutting them into quarters. Next, split the apricots in half, removing the kernels (you may, if you like, add a few to the jam). Place the apricots, strawberries and chopped lemon into a heavy-based saucepan and pour over the sugar.

Place over a gentle heat and stir the sugar through until it has begun to melt. Once this happens turn up the heat and cook at a much faster pace for about 20 minutes, stirring every so often. This helps to prevent it from sticking and burning in the pan. Pour into sterilised jars. Allow to cool and refrigerate.

Apricot tart

This tart works beautifully with crème fraîche. I often use this pastry recipe for tarts as it's easy to make, and very buttery and crunchy. You will need a 23cm (9in) tart tin with a removable base.

Serves 6-8

For the pastry

250g/8oz plain organic flour
125g/4oz unsalted butter (really cold)
2-3 drops of vanilla extract
1 whole egg
1 egg yolk
1tbsp caster sugar
A pinch of sea-salt

For the filling

12 apricots
4tbsp sugar
The juice of half a lemon
1tbsp caster sugar

For the pastry, place the flour in a blender and add the whole egg, the yolk, vanilla, sugar, salt and butter cut into cubes. Pulse on and off until the mix resembles coarse sand. Continue to pulse until the pastry forms a homogenous ball (add a little cold water if necessary).

Wrap in parchment paper and chill in the fridge for 30 minutes. When it's really cold, roll it out and line your tart tin. Prick the base all over with a fork and return to the fridge for 30 minutes.

For the filling, slice each of the apricots in half and remove the kernels. Place in a bowl and sprinkle on the sugar, squeeze over the lemon juice of half a lemon and set aside.

Next, blind bake the tart. Heat the oven to 180C/350F/Gas4. Line the tin with parchment paper and weight it down with baking beans (if you don't have any use dried lentils or rice). Bake for 10 minutes. Remove from the oven and carefully take off the paper and beans.

Arrange the apricots around the tart and sprinkle on the caster sugar. Return to the oven for a further 20 minutes, by which time the pastry should be nutty brown and the apricots soft and slightly caramelised.

I love to serve this not too hot but just warm. I think a big dollop of crème fraîche is the perfect accompaniment.

Apricot ice cream

Serves 6

150g/5oz caster sugar
250ml/8fl oz water
1 punnet apricots, split in half with their kernels removed
4tsp sherry (preferably Fino)
The zest of one orange
The zest of one lemon

For the custard

6 egg yolks
160g/51/2oz caster sugar
2 vanilla pods, split in half lengthwise
300ml/10fl oz milk
300ml/10fl oz double cream

Place the sugar and water in a saucepan over a medium heat and gently bring to the boil. Add the apricots and turn the heat down. Poach until soft and falling apart. Remove the cooked apricots with a slotted spoon and, while hot, purée in a blender. Set aside to cool.

To make the custard, put the milk, cream and vanilla pods in a pan. Place over a medium heat and bring to a simmer. Once the milk begins to boil, remove it from the heat immediately. Set aside for 5 minutes to infuse.

Place the yolks and sugar in a bowl and beat to combine. Pour the milk over the yolks, stirring as you do so. Return the mixture to the pan and place over the lowest possible heat. Stir with a wooden spoon until the mixture begins to thicken (leaving a trail on your spoon). Be patient - this may take 5 or 6 minutes and don't be tempted to turn up the heat as the custard may curdle. When thickened, remove from the heat and allow to cool.

Once both the custard and apricot purée are at room temperature, combine and pour into your ice-cream maker. Follow the manufacturer's instructions.

Once set, scoop into bowls, sprinkle on the zest and spoon the sherry over it. Serve at once.

Burata with poached apricots

Burata is a cow's milk mozzarella cheese from Italy. If you can't find it, try any other cow's milk mozzarella such as fiore di latte. They are both richer and creamier than buffalo mozzarella and, therefore, work a little better with sweet things.

Serves 4

6 ripe apricots
1 vanilla pod
The peel of one lemon
3 bay leaves
100g/31/2oz sugar
250ml/8fl oz water
A little freshly ground black pepper
The zest of one lemon

Place the sugar, water, vanilla pod, bay leaves and lemon peel into a saucepan. Place over a medium heat and bring to a gentle boil. Split the apricots in half and remove the kernels. Place them in the gently boiling sugar syrup. Turn the heat down slightly and gently poach for 2-3 minutes until just soft. Using a slotted spoon, remove the apricots and place in a bowl to cool. Discard the syrup.

To assemble, tear the burata into pieces using your fingers and then divide among four plates. Pile the apricots on top and sprinkle over the black pepper and lemon zest. Serve.

This dish is also delicious and refreshing when slightly chilled. In which case, once the apricots have cooled, place them in the fridge for a half hour or so before piling on top of the burata.

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